During 2021 and 2022, luxury river vessels and ocean cruise ships will head for the Benelux region of Europe. Enticing ports of call include Amsterdam and Rotterdam in the Netherlands, as well as Zeebrugge and Antwerp in Belgium. The big draws? The region brims with Medieval architecture and villages, Golden Age art treasures, pastoral countryside, Jewish heritage sites and flora and holiday activities.
In 2021, upscale AmaWaterways has an appealing eight-night “Best of Holland and Belgium” roundtrip from Amsterdam on the 162-passenger AmaSerena. Guests will embark the ship, enjoy free time and an overnight in the city, and then a line-included Amsterdam canal cruise. In Utrecht, the Netherlands, AmaWaterways offers a nice choice of three shore options: A walking tour that visits Museum Speelklok (“self-playing” instruments from music boxes to organs); a Castle de Haar visit or Dutch tasting tour.
Next up on the itinerary is Veere, a former fishing village that’s now a yachting town. On the line’s medieval harbor walking tour, travelers will see (and often hear) the town hall’s 48-bell carillon. AmaSerena’s call in Ghent gives travelers a chance to tour the city or, alternatively, the fairytale-like, medieval destination of Bruges, Belgium.
Not to be missed while touring Bruges? Entering the Church of Our Lady, travelers will gaze at Michelangelo’s lovely Carrara marble sculpture of Madonna and Child; it was stolen by the Nazis in 1944 but thankfully recovered. For historical perspective, we’d suggest reading the book “The Monuments Men,” or see the same-named movie. For repeat cruisers who’ve taken walking tours of both Ghent and Bruges, another option is AmaWaterways’ excursion to Ghent’s moated Castle of the Counts of Flanders, the region’s only remaining medieval castle with a largely intact defense system.
Other port calls on this itinerary include Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium, and Dordrecht and Kinderdijk, the Netherlands. Departures in 2021 include May 29, July 3, August 7, September 11 and October 16, and guests can add a two-night, pre-cruise Amsterdam stay.
AmaWaterways’ 162-passenger AmaSerena has 81 staterooms. Shown here is the 300-square-foot Suite on the Violin Deck, which comes with a French balcony and an outside balcony.
Certainly, cruisers often desire to travel to the Netherlands in spring for the gorgeous blooms in the fields. Most river lines have tulip-focused itineraries. Scenic offers an eight-day “Windmills, Tulips & Belgium Delights” itinerary roundtrip from Amsterdam. The 163-passenger Scenic Jade operates this itinerary on April 14, 21 and 28, 2021, with calls at Rotterdam, Veere, Arnhem and Hoorn.
One enriching Veere option is the Scenic Freechoice excursion to visit the Delta works, including the Storm Surge Barrier; it’s a good way to learn more about this incredible feat of modern engineering. Alternatively, during the Veere port call, active travelers can opt for Scenic’s guided bicycle tour and foodies can tour and taste at an oyster farm.
For a lovely Rotterdam dining experience if exploring independently, Luxury Travel Advisor suggests making a lunch reservation at the two-Michelin-starred Parkheuvel. Travelers can expect exquisite presentation, fine service and French cuisine by Erik van Loo. The restaurant’s three-course, prix-fixe lunch has a choice of fish or meat, plus a wine pairing option. In addition, the eatery’s façade of glass delivers 180-degree views of the Meuse River and Het Park.
We’d also recommend that die-hard maritime enthusiasts plan an audio-tour or fully guided tour of Holland America Line’s former Rotterdam, gloriously restored in 1950s styling and now operating as a WestCord Hotels property in Rotterdam. This classic ship sailed for Holland America between 1959 and 2000.
AmaSerena will sail an eight-night “Best of Holland and Belgium” roundtrip from Amsterdam in 2021.
Luxurious Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection also offers an in-depth “Holland & Belgium at Tulip Time” itinerary on River Queen between Amsterdam and Brussels, with departures on March 21 and 28 and April 4 and 11. The ship calls at such Benelux region destinations as Antwerp, Belgium, and at Cuijk (Nuenen), Heusden, Maastricht and Schoonhoven, the Netherlands.
Did you know that famed painter Vincent Van Gogh lived in and painted “The Potato Eaters” in Nuenen? To see some of the same sites the painter did, head out on Uniworld’s “Van Gogh ‘Village Day’ in Nuenen” with a country lunch. On another day, Uniworld’s guests will tour Maastricht, one of Europe’s loveliest cities with Roman, Spanish, French and Dutch historical threads. We’d suggest active travelers consider Uniworld’s “Let’s Go” Maas river biking.
During the line’s call in Schoonhoven, also known as the “City of Silver,” cruisers will discover shops selling exquisite handmade silver jewelry, tableware, art pieces and more. In fact, since the Middle Ages, Schoonhoven has served as the Dutch educational center for silversmiths and goldsmiths, and a good way to learn more is at the local Silver Museum.
In Antwerp, Uniworld’s walking tour will take guests to see City Hall and Market Square and will take cruisers inside the UNESCO-designated Cathedral of Our Lady. It’s famed for four masterpieces of Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens, so be sure to check out the painting above the main altar, two large triptych altars and a smaller altar.
Uniworld’s River Queen will sail the “Holland & Belgium at Tulip Time” itinerary between Amsterdam and Brussels, with departures on March 21, March 28, April 4 and April 11 in 2021.
In 2021, Avalon Waterways also offers a nine-day “Tulip Time in Holland and Belgium with One Night in Amsterdam” itinerary that sails between Amsterdam (overnight) and Brussels (double overnight) so guests have plenty of time to explore both cities. The 128-passenger Imagery II departs on April 3 and 17, plus a March 20 departure is themed for “Gardens and Nature Lovers” and carries no single supplement.
One night of this itinerary is spent on land in Amsterdam at the Hotel Jakarta Amsterdam by WestCord or a similar property. During free time, we’d head for Amsterdam’s 9 Straatjes (Nine Streets), a quirky network of narrow streets intersected by canals. Popular with the locals, this area brims with eateries and eclectic boutiques selling high-end jewelry, fashions, antiques and vintage goods. For high-quality leather bags, we’d suggest browsing at Margareth M, which offers the GM Z leather collection developed by the store’s owners, Dutch-Indonesian sisters Germaine and Titi Tournier.
An eight-day version of the itinerary (without the one-night Amsterdam hotel) is also offered. Beyond Amsterdam and Brussels, port visits include Namur, Liege, Maastricht and Antwerp, Belgium, as well as Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In Liege, we’d sample the famous local waffle flavored with cinnamon, caramel and vanilla.
While at Nijmegen, Avalon’s guests can take an excursion to Arnhem, either for guided sightseeing or a tour of the Airborne Museum or go hiking in the national park. In Brussels, Avalon Waterways offers a Classic guided Brussels tour, or alternatively, a Discovery option, which includes sightseeing followed by a do-it-yourself chocolate workshop for a fun, interactive experience.
But spring isn’t the only lovely time of year to spend time in the Netherlands and Belgium. Tauck’s eight-day “Yuletide Spirit: Brussels to Amsterdam” sailing departs on the 130-passenger Grace. With overnight stays in Amsterdam and Brussels, this river holiday itinerary also includes calls in Antwerp, Ghent / Bruges, Rotterdam (for Delft) and Gouda. The 2021 departures are December 6, 13, 20 and 27.
Certainly, one highlight of this holiday itinerary is the Antwerp Christmas Market, traditionally in December and spread across several different city squares. The market spaces are within walking distance of landmarks cruisers will see on Tauck’s walking tour; plus, free time will allow cruisers to browse Christmas Market handicraft stalls and sample local winter delicacies. We’d taste the small fried potatoes with bacon (“spekpatatjes”) and sip mulled wine.
In Amsterdam, Tauck’s guests will be treated to a guided tour, plus a mini concert at the Royal Concertgebouw, renowned for its orchestra and concert hall acoustics. After lunch on the ship, guests can then make a visit to a private Amsterdam canal-side home, where the host will relate tales of life along the waterways. The day concludes with a festive canal cruise.
On AmaSerena, guests will find plenty of spaces to relax and unwind, including the library, shown above.
Travelers will also find itineraries that go beyond Dutch or Belgian borders. For example, Crystal River Cruises operates a 10-night “Enchanting Moselle” itinerary during 2021 on the 106-passenger Crystal Bach roundtrip from Amsterdam; departures are June 11 and September 13 and 23, 2021. One plus is that guests board and have all day, evening and even the next morning to explore Amsterdam, prior to the ship’s 2 p.m. departure.
Jewish heritage buffs should like this cruise, as they can head out on Crystal’s “Amsterdam & Jewish Heritage” tour, which includes a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum, a guided Jewish Quarter walking tour and a visit inside the Portuguese Synagogue, plus take a “Koblenz City Walk and Jewish heritage” walking tour in that German city. Other calls are at Dusseldorf, Bernkastel-Kues, Trier, Cochem and Bonn, Germany, along with Arnhem, the Netherlands.
One of Luxury Travel Advisor’s favorite river cruise ports is Trier, home to impressive Roman ruins, including the well-preserved Porta Nigra (Black Gate) and Roman baths. Crystal’s three-hour “Secrets of Porta Nigra” shore excursion will take guests to Porta Nigra, where fit travelers can climb the gate’s 120 stairs to see the view from the top. The tour then continues to the 13th-century Liebfrauenkirche, a Gothic-style church, and on to Trier’s 16th-century centerpiece, the Marktbrunnen or St. Peter’s fountain.
Some travelers seek to start or end in Amsterdam, but also to sail much deeper into the heart of Europe. Among the options? Viking River Cruises offers a 15-day “Grand European Tour” from Amsterdam to Budapest. Twelve guided tours are included within the cruise fare, plus others are also available. Guests can visit Kinderdijk to see the historic windmills, as well as explore such German destinations as Cologne, Koblenz, Miltenberg, Wurzburg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, Regensburg and Passau, plus Melk and Vienna (overnight) in Austria, and Budapest (overnight) in Hungary.
Viking’s guided walking tour of Bamberg and its medieval city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, includes a visit to the 11th-century cathedral, reworked in late Romanesque style in the 13th century. Cruisers will also see the city hall, built on a tiny island in the middle of a river. We’d suggest that beer fans taste the local specialty — smoke-flavored beer.
Cologne once served as capital of the Roman province of Germania and its fabulous Romano-Germanic Museum is adjacent to the towering cathedral. Just peer into the glass from outside and look down to spot a magnificent Roman mosaic with scenes from the third-century A.D. world of Dionysos. Inside the museum are the world’s largest collection of Roman glass and both Roman and early medieval jewelry.
For several years, an archaeological dig has been under way in Cologne’s downtown. The dig site encompasses the Roman Praetorium (governor’s palace) under City Hall, a section of the Roman Sewer and remains of one of Europe’s most important Jewish Quarters, including a mikveh, the ritual Jewish bath. A new $90 million Jewish Heritage Museum is expected to open both on and underneath the Rathausplatz as early as 2021.
For sizable Amsterdam port time coupled with an iconic “flora” expo, check out Crystal Cruises’ eight-night “European Gardens and Getaways” voyage. On August 31, 2022, the 848-passenger Crystal Symphony sails roundtrip from Dover, U.K. and on its first port call arrives in Amsterdam at 8 a.m. one day, overnights there (so guests can go ashore for dinner, drinks or night-time entertainment) and remains in Amsterdam until 5 p.m. the next day.
What’s special? Luxury travelers who are horticultural enthusiasts should head to “Floriade Expo 2022,” the iconic international horticultural exposition, running from April 2022 through October 2022 in Almere, the Netherlands. Themed around “The Green City of the Future,” the expo has four threads — green (eco-friendly), food, energy and health. Exhibitions, cultural shows and a Green City Arboretum are planned. We love that the arboretum will consist of an alphabetically arranged tree and plant library that people will “walk through.”
Crystal Symphony also will spend day in Zeebrugge for Bruges, Brussels or Ghent in Belgium. Plus, it offers a double overnight in Rouen, France, so guests might explore Paris one day and the Normandy area the next. This itinerary also includes a day at St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ new 750-passenger Seven Seas Splendor will sail a 12-night “Splendid Scandinavia” itinerary from Southampton, U.K. (London) to Stockholm, Sweden on June 1, 2021. This ultra-luxury ship, which has over-the-top opulence, enhanced menus for Compass Rose and specialty restaurants and a high-end Regent Suite with a $200,000 hand-crafted Hästens bed, sails an itinerary calling at these ports: Zeebrugge; Amsterdam; Copenhagen; Visby, Sweden; Liepaja, Latvia; Tallinn, Estonia; and Helsinki and Turku, Finland.
On Seven Seas Splendor’s Amsterdam port call, guests can opt for “Amsterdam and Jewish Heritage,” which will visit the Jewish Historical Museum housed within four ancient Ashkenazi synagogues. Other highlights include the Jewish Quarter, Holland Theater, a monument to tens of thousands of Amsterdam Jews who perished during the Holocaust, and the 17th-century Portuguese Synagogue.
During a call in Zeebrugge, we appreciate that the line offers — among many shore excursions — an “Accessible Medieval Bruges” option, which uses the most wheelchair accessible routes possible, including step-free routes, shorter distances, no stairs and accessible restrooms with wide doors. Advance reservations are imperative. Guests on this tour will see the 12th-century Basilica of the Holy Blood and the 14th-century Renaissance-style city hall, enter the Church of Our Lady to see the Michelangelo sculpture and shop for a bit in Steenstraat, perhaps browsing for exquisite, handmade Belgium lace.
For a robust British Isles itinerary, plus time in Amsterdam, Silversea Cruises’ 24-night “Northern Europe & British Isles” cruise departs September 3, 2021 roundtrip from Southampton, U.K. The 608-passenger Silver Spirit calls in the U.K. at Falmouth, Aberdeen, Torquay and Leith, plus Fishguard in Wales, Belfast in Northern Ireland and the Scottish destinations of Oban, Stornoway, Kirkwall and Edinburgh.
Other calls are in Dublin, Ireland; St. Peter Port, Guernsey; Saint Malo (Brittany), Honfleur, France; Zeebrugge, Belgium; Amsterdam (overnight), Hamburg, Germany (overnight), plus two days at sea. In Amsterdam, one good choice for active travelers is Silversea’s half-day “Dutch Landscape Bicycle Tour,” with a short, guided bike ride to the ferry terminal, a five-minute ferry ride to the Waterland area and then guided cycling through a country landscape of open fields, villages, cow farms, dykes and windmills.
Alternatively, we’d suggest Silversea’s “Golden Age Beauty at The Van Loon Museum” shore excursion in Amsterdam as it combines an interesting museum tour with canal cruise. The Van Loon Museum is situated within a 17th-century canal-side mansion with a formal garden and coach house. Painter Ferdinand Bol, a student of Rembrandt, lived here and the home’s interior evokes the splendor of Amsterdam’s Golden Age.
For cruisers who want to explore Amsterdam a bit but also sail on an in-depth Norway itinerary, Seabourn offers a 14-Day “Scenic Norway & Fjords” cruise from Amsterdam to Copenhagen on the 450-passenger Seabourn Sojourn, departing June 19, 2021. One plus is that the ship remains in Amsterdam until 11 p.m. on embarkation day, so guests arriving same day still have time to explore the city. The itinerary also includes scenic cruising of Germany’s Elbe River and an overnight call at Hamburg, plus several days at sea.
In Norway, the ship sails into picturesque fjords for scenic cruising, plus the in-depth country experience includes port calls at Alesund, Molde, Geiranger, Stavanger, Haugesund, Loen (Olden), Skjolden and Rosendal. At Molde, known as the “City of Roses,” cruisers will have panoramic views of the Romsdal Alps and a chance to visit the Romsdal Museum, an open-air assembly of 50 traditional Norwegian farm buildings.
Or, a 14-day “Harbors of Western Europe” itinerary on Seabourn Sojourn departs Amsterdam on September 25, 2021 and includes a different perspective with calls at both Antwerp (for Brussels) and Zeebrugge for Bruges and Ghent, as well as ports in France, Portugal and Spain. At Zeebrugge, one yummy choice shore-side is Seabourn’s “Bruges & Chocolate Workshop,” a hands-on, extensive training session led by a professional Belgian chocolate-maker.
Clearly, the Netherlands and Belgium have much to offer upscale travelers on all types of cruise itineraries and ships, whether cruisers have just a few hours or the luxury of a few days to explore. So, pick your passion and head out in 2021 or 2022 to Amsterdam and beyond.
Oceania Cruises’ Insignia will sail the 27-day “Baltic to Broadway” itinerary from Stockholm, Sweden to New York in 2021. Shown here is the ship’s Grand Dining Room.
Viking’s seven-night “Viking Shores & Fjords” ocean itinerary sails between Amsterdam and Bergen, Norway, on multiple departures between May 2021 and September 2021. The 930-passenger Viking Jupiter will call at Skagen, Denmark; Oslo, Kristiansand, Stavanger and Flam, Norway. For cruises ending in Amsterdam, Viking’s post-cruise Amsterdam extension (available on select dates) includes two nights at the Mövenpick Hotel Amsterdam City Centre (or similar property), two breakfasts, a guided Amsterdam canal cruise and walking tour, all transfers and the Viking host services.
For golf enthusiasts, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 calls at Amsterdam during a 13-day “Golf and Cruise” from Lisbon to Hamburg on May 9, 2021. It’s a bilingual English/German cruise with English shore excursions. The separate golf package includes play on five courses, including one at the BurgGolf Purmerend Golf Resort outside Amsterdam; golfers can also add two more courses, if desired.
On July 23, 2021, Azamara’s Azamara Quest sails a 12-Night “St. Pete & Baltic States” voyage between Stockholm, Sweden and Amsterdam. Ports of call include Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; St. Petersburg, Russia; Riga, Latvia; Klaipeda, Lithuania; Gdansk, Poland; Ronne, Bornholm, Denmark; the Kiel Canal, Germany. Post-cruise, Azamara’s three-night “Stay Local in Amsterdam Longer” package includes sightseeing via a city highlights tour with lunch and a Van Gogh Museum visit, plus a canal dinner cruise and separate countryside day tour.
Ponant’s eight-day “Flanders and Hansa Cities” voyage on Le Champlain is a food-and-wine themed cruise in partnership with Relais & Châteaux. It sails from London to Copenhagen on May 11, 2021. Shoreside, cruisers will gaze at the Belle Epoque-style building facades of Ostend in coastal Belgium, plus spend time in Antwerp, Hamburg and Amsterdam, where we’d opt for “The Hague and Mauritshuis” shore excursion. That includes guided touring of The Hague, the Netherlands’ administrative capital, and a visit to Mauritshuis to gaze at 15th- to 17th-century art masterpieces. Don’t miss Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
Plenty of time? Oceania Cruises’ 27-day “Baltic to Broadway” itinerary from Stockholm, Sweden to New York provides two full days (an overnight) in Amsterdam. Departing August 25, 2021, the 684-passenger Insignia also sails to other ports in Finland, Russia (overnight in St. Petersburg), Estonia, Latvia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France, Portugal and Bermuda. Oceania’s “Amsterdam and Jewish Heritage” excursion will take cruisers to a museum housed within four ancient Ashkenazi synagogues, the Jewish Quarter, the Holland Theater and Portuguese Synagogue.
Windstar Cruises’ 310-passenger Star Legend will sail an “Impressionist France” itinerary on May 11, 2021 from Bordeaux, France to multiple French ports of call, including La Rochelle, Lorient, Saint-Malo, Caen and Rouen, France and Zeebrugge, Belgium (for Bruges) before the voyage ends in Amsterdam, giving independent explorers time on their own.
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